Substitute Kei Kamara inspired a stirring late comeback that gave Norwich a first Premier League win in 10 matches and left Everton with much to do to fulfil their ambitions of securing a place in next season’s Champions’ League.
The Sierra Leone striker, on loan from the MLS club Kansas City, outjumped Marouane Fellaini five minutes from time to score his first goal since arriving in England – cancelling out Leon Osman’s first-half header from a superb Leighton Baines cross – and it was undoubtedly the fillip that goal provided to the struggling home side that led Norwich to chase a winner in stoppage time and find it through Grant Holt.
It was a painful blow for David Moyes, the Everton manager, who ranks his current side as his best in 11 years at the club yet knows his chances of finishing in the top four for the second time are weakening.
The opportunity to test himself against the best in Europe is likely to be a key factor in determining whether he stays at Goodison beyond the summer, when his current contract ends, yet there is a yawning gap to close in the remaining weeks of the season.
Everton have won only once in their last six League games and this defeat leaves them six points adrift of Tottenham, who currently occupy fourth place and have a chance to move further away from them at West Ham tomorrow night.
“There is still a chance for us to get into the top four but we are going to have to be very good now to do it,” Moyes said afterwards.
“It is a difficult defeat to take today because we controlled so much of the game and yet didn’t have enough in the final third to finish it off.
“If we are ambitious we have to be winning games like that but I felt we started trying to protect what we had a bit too early. In the end we paid the price for that.”
Norwich were beginning to worry about their Premier League safety after scoring only one goal in five matches but their manager, Chris Hughton, may have solved that problem with his loan signing of Kamara in the January window, combined with the acquisition of Luciano Becchio from Leeds.
It enabled him to play two strikers throughout, which he admitted was a risk against a side whose system tends to outnumber their opponents in midfield, and they looked more potent for it.
Becchio took some of the burden of responsibility off the shoulders of Holt and when he gave way to Kamara after 57 minutes, Everton suddenly had to contend with pace as well as power.
Confident enough to wave to the crowd as he warmed up by the touchline, Kamara’s self-belief was evident in his first active involvement, an athletic scissors kick that did not test Tim Howard particularly but demonstrated ability and ambition after only a couple of minutes on the field.
His next chance, from a Wes Hoolahan cross, brought a header that had the Everton goalkeeper beaten and went only narrowly wide, and then came the goal, a thumping header from a towering leap that changed the tempo of the game.
Everton, having spent so much of the first hour or so in complete charge, were up against a team that believed they could win.
Four minutes of stoppage time only favoured the home side and with almost the last action, both Kamara and Sébastien Bassong challenged for a Russell Martin cross, with Holt looking for a chance to come his way as a result, and taking it when the ball fell nicely for him to sweep it past Howard.
Hughton admitted that he had seen Kamara only on DVD before agreeing to sign him, although he trusted the scouting reports.
“It was a gamble, not least because you don’t know how quickly a player like him, from another league, is going to adapt, but he is a player who wants to do well and he is a different kind of player to those we had,” Hughton said.
Norwich (4-4-2): Bunn; R Martin, Turner, Bassong, Garrido; Snodgrass, Johnson, Howson, Hoolahan (Pilkington, 72); Becchio (Kamara, 57, Holt.
Everton (4-4-1-1): Howard; Coleman, Jagielka, Distin, Baines; Naismith, Gibson, Osman, Pienaar (Oviedo, 85); Fellaini; Jelavic (Mirallas, 78)
Referee: Lee Mason
Man of the match: Kamara (Norwich)
Match rating: 8/10